Going Green: Saving water, making money in Greenback

“Just think about all the waste of energy trying to get it here from Mexico or even from California to here,” Dean said.
Published: Nov. 16, 2021 at 6:33 PM EST|Updated: Nov. 17, 2021 at 6:41 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - In Greenback, one family farm turns a profit by saving water. Eco-Rich said its lettuce tastes better, lasts longer, and could help cities struggling to feed their people.

“We can produce over a ton a week - of lettuce. And lettuce doesn’t weigh much,” Eco-Rich Farm’s co-owner Jeff Dean said.

Jeff Dean’s growing green while making green.

“If you get it from a farmer here locally, it’s not spent time in a storage warehouse or it’s not time on the road trying to get here,” Dean said.

Next time you make a salad, look where it was grown, probably not within 1,000 miles.

“Just think about all the waste of energy trying to get it here from Mexico or even from California to here,” Dean said.

Here’s how his indoor farm works, they call it aquaponics. Begin with a lot of tilapia.

“Fish in the system that will provide enough nutrients to grow the lettuce,” Dean said.

The waste from the tilapia is the starting point for all of that lettuce. But nothing goes to waste in aquaponics. The tilapia end up as a pretty unique side product. You can buy their filets at the Market Square Famer’s Market.

Those ‘closed loops’ - actual pipe loops - keep water usage limited. Dean said it’s a fraction of lettuce grown in a field.

“We lose about five percent of the water (through) leakage, evaporation. But everything else is recyclable,” Dean said.

And expandable across the globe.

“For villages. So they could put his system together on a smaller scale than this,” Dean said.

Food insecurity caused by climate change was a central topic for world leaders at the COP26 summit this month. Eco-Rich manager Rachel Ensor believes this farm type could help developing countries avoid hunger.

“It would be difficult at first. Once you know the basics, and know how to do that, it’s very fairly easy,” Ensor said.

Ensor said you can stack the lettuce rows to save space. Plus it keeps longer, they said a minimum of two weeks.

Farmers and grocers are looking for ways to avoid single use plastic. Think about when you go to buy produce. You want to see all sides and for now, plastic is the most cost-effective clear packaging.

In the coming months, Eco-Rich told WVLT News that the farmers are looking for a renewable and recyclable packing source.

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